Farm life combines early mornings and earthly connections to grow fresh, nutritious food to share with a community.
But what else does it take to run a farm? For Michael Silver, Owner of Earth Temple Gardens in Argenta and Meadow Creek, that answer has evolved over the 12 years he’s been running the business. In the farm’s early stages, Silver started by paying a stipend for seasonal interns or trading goods for volunteer labour. Eventually, he came to realize the need for hiring consistent, reliable employees. Through the Trust’s Food Producer Wage Subsidy Program, Silver has been able to employ six workers from May through October for the past three years.
“One of the greatest benefits of the program is that the Trust provides a portion of the subsidy upfront,” he says. “I can pay my staff at the start of the season when there’s not enough money coming in. It’s tricky to strike a balance between infrastructure, production and paying wages because we need a lot of hands on the farm to get the season going. At the same time, there’s not much to sell, so the subsidy has been really amazing.”
Over the three seasons he’s relied on the program, Silver has hired back three of the same employees, including Martin Couch, a former cook who started volunteering with Silver eight years ago in exchange for produce. “I love working outside with the sun, the rain and the wind, with my hands in the dirt,” says Couch. “Working with people who value growing real food and seeing the abundance that comes from the land, when it’s well taken care of, is inspiring.”
Couch plans to continue growing food for as long as he’s able to. He’s learned that it takes an extraordinary amount of work to run a farm, from harvesting and packing orders for grocery stores and farmers markets to weeding and bed flipping. But for him it’s all worth it. “How the land will take care of us as long as we care for it will be a lifelong lesson for me,” adds Couch. “Food is a byproduct of feeding the land, of loving the soil.” With firsthand knowledge of how hard food producers work to feed their communities, Couch believes that “farmers need and deserve all the support.”
Silver himself learned on the job as a farmer’s apprentice before taking his green thumb to his own plot of land on the north end of Kootenay Lake, but working on a farm and owning one are quite different. “I’ve always been interested in growing food, so I come by it naturally,” says Silver. “Little did I know, I actually had to run a business! I’ve taken my initial dream and learned business skills along the way, with the help of many people from the community.”
Wage support also helps, with Silver’s farm just one of many successfully increasing Basin residents’ access to locally grown, healthy food. The wage subsidy program has allowed Earth Temple Gardens to focus on growing over 50 crop varieties, from everything that goes into making a delicious salad to herbs like ashwagandha, echinacea and chamomile.
Diversifying what he farms has added complexity to the business, according to Silver, who sells these herbs to local herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners. Running the farm year-round, operating a farm stand from as early as mid-April, and participating in the Kaslo Saturday Market from June to October has the busy entrepreneur thankful for the subsidy program’s smooth and efficient application process. Paperwork can act as a barrier to small business owners, but Silver says the Trust’s accessible communication has made running his business that much easier.
“I feel supported and grateful that I get to work in a safe, healthy space. I can’t think of doing anything better than growing food and I hope to do it until a ripe old age,” says Silver.
Columbia Basin Trust